There are not many who would consider Betty Turpin, the beloved and much missed doyenne of the Rover’s Return, a hair icon but all my life, I’d wanted soft chestnut curls full of shine and bounce, a friendly set that says “Hotpot Ken?” and adds a wee touch of Northern glamour. I thought I’d cracked it. A friend of mine had just begun working in a salon and in my mind that made him Vidal Sassoon.
So every few weeks, I’d let him take a pair of scissors to my unsightly mop and trim it here and there to give it a bit of order. “Do you think you could do a perm?” I asked one night after a few too many glasses of ginger wine. I can hear the sharp intake of breath dear reader, I acknowledge that the perm (especially the sort which comes in boxes) is best left to Kevin Keegan circa 1985 but I was determined and we made a plan of action. My hair was duly wrapped in paper, tightly wound into brightly coloured plastic rollers and we waited. “The box says we leave it on for 20 minutes”, said Vidal. “Oh no”, I said, pouring another gin and dubonnet, “We’d best leave it on for an hour to make sure it takes”. It took.
As the rollers were unwound, I found that my jet black silky emo locks had been transformed into what can only be described as pubic hair. Had the Jackson 5 been recruiting for the Jackson 6, I’d have been a shoe in. You couldn’t push your fingers through it, let alone a brush and eventually I had to accept that the whole lot would need to be shaved off. And so there I was for 6 months. A very unhappy egg.
Transition brings with it something rather unexpected. There is a constant need to groom and to beautify. It isn’t enough to simply change the clothes one wears, there is an expectation to hyperfeminise in order to pass and hair is a huge part of this.
All of use our hair to express our personality and because it takes such a long time to grow, we naturally become very protective of it. For trans women, the pressure put upon us concerning outward appearance is the vast and we respond to that by trying to find people we can trust, especially when it comes to hairdressers. The cut and the colour is important to us, just as it would be for anyone else, but the overall experience needs to offer something a little more. We need a safe space, understanding staff and stylists who will help guide us in the right direction when we may not have a clue what flatters us.
After 8 months of growing my hair, I was popping down to see a friend in Plymouth last year and thought what a good idea it would be to have my bonce bouffed before taking the train from Paddington Station. By this point in time, it had gone from a short Shirley MacLaine to a shoulder length Mary Portas and I wanted something a little grand, as is my wont. I shall name no names except to say that this was quite a popular and respected chain of hairdressers and so I assumed, being in the centre of the capital, my arrival wouldn’t be like the first meeting between Elliot and E.T. I was wrong.
The receptionist giggled, I was forced into a chair by the window and the stylist took one look at the photograph I’d brought with it and shook his head. For the entire 60 minutes sitting in the chair, he spoke to me once – to ask me to put my head up – and then proceeded to chop off most of my hair and give me a short back and sides. 8 months worth of confidence lay on the floor around us and it was more than I could do not to burst into tears there and then.
I spent most of my time in Plymouth in a Debbie Reynolds wig to hide the crimes against hairmanity which had taken place. It’s been months since I dared visit another hairdresser but when I was asked if I’d like to visit the Gary Ingham Salon and Spa in Hampstead for an afternoon of hair and beauty treatments, I decided it was time to put aside my nerves and concerns and put myself entirely in their hands. And there’s no better out there. Throughout the afternoon, I was made to feel welcome and respected. On the Sunday afternoon, I met my stylist, Enia, who spent around half an hour getting to know me as a person before even touching my barnet (which I’d taken to backcombing out into a helmet of hair that would have dwarfed Mrs Thatchers’).
She asked me what I wanted my hair to say about me as a person, which styles did I prefer and what did I absolutely, definitely not want. She performed a colour test but the salon specialises in Aveda, a special organic, non-toxic, environmentally friendly care system which is gentle for your hair and skin. They offer a mind blowing range of specially tailored products which are designed to be kind and not chemically cruel and the staff are expert in recommending which of these would be best for you as an individual. But unlike other salons, there’s no hard sell and there’s no demand that you leave the salon with a bag loaded with products you won’t need.
This is all part of this salon’s unique emphasis on personal care and individual pampering. On the day of my appointment, I was welcomed by David who offered a refreshing range of teas and coffees and then I was taken to the chair where I expected to instantly cringe at my reflection in the mirror. Flying through the underground with sweaty commuters isn’t exactly conducive to keeping a flawless finish make-up wise but good news ladies – the mirrors and subtle lighting will make you look and feel a million dollars and every area of this salon has clearly been designed to offer a luxury experience where you feel that the entire staff are there to do one thing: make you look and feel gorgeous.
My hair was coloured a vibrant Lucille Ball red with no nasty ammonia smells or scalp burning and instead of a tepid rinse off leaning over a cracked basin as is so often the case, you’ll have your hair washed whilst sitting in luxury leather massage chairs and if you’re as lucky as I was, a manicurist will paint your nails for you at the same time and make you feel like a film star awaiting her public. Enia had taken enormous care to discuss the style I wanted, she pointed out which styles complimented my face better than others but in what is a typical sign of how truly expert and understanding the staff are, she also pointed out to me the styles which would help feminise my face and which would be the most flattering.
Friendly, personable and dedicated, she made a great effort to show me exactly how to get the same results at home and this makes the entire experience truly worthwhile.
We need a hairstyle that will hold up and look fabulous every single day, not just for the few hours after we’ve left a salon. Every single staff member was absolutely intent on offering the highest standard of service during my entire visit but most importantly, I was treated with respect. For those who are concerned about being misgendered or who even worry about telephoning to make an appointment with a stylist, the Gary Ingham Salon & Spa is the place for you.
My correct pronouns were used consistently, I was asked if I minded discussing my trans identity and had I said no, I know that would have been respected.
Indeed, the stylist only broached the issue to help her understand the needs of future transgender clients. With my nails flawlessly polished, my hands beautifully massaged and my hair coloured and cut to absolute perfection, I left the salon standing taller, feeling more confident and most importantly, totally in love with my new style which I immediately recognised would help me to pass. The trans community have unique requirements and so few businesses go out of their way to be inclusive and to try to meet those requirements in a warm, pleasant and inviting atmosphere. The staff at Gary Ingham Salon & Spa do exactly that. Whatever your needs and whatever stage in transition you find yourself, you can be certain that the salon offers a fantastic team of individuals who are there not only to give you the style you want but the confidence boost so many of us need.
From the moment you arrive to the moment you leave, you can be sure of attentive and understanding service, the like of which can’t be found anywhere else. I cannot thank the team at Gary Ingham enough for the amazing experience I was treated to and for the trans community who are unsure of where to head when it’s time to find that killer cut, my recommendation comes with absolute confidence that you’ll be shown the same care and respect I was.
Words – Kaye Crawford